Is an Online Backup Service a Good Idea?

I keep hearing about online backup services that will back up your data to “the cloud”. Assuming it’s secure, why shouldn’t I do that and skip the hassle of doing backups to an external hard drive or whatever?

I’ve written some about free online backup services before, but I want to take this opportunity to look at the entire concept of online backups, whether they’re free or paid.

Online backup services can be a useful component of a broader backup strategy, but there are a number of factors to consider before deciding if online backup is the right thing to do, including security, completeness, speed, and cost.

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If External Hard Drives Can Fail, Should I Bother with One?

I’ve been told that an external hard drive can still be corrupted after you transfer files, pictures, whatever. Should I still purchase an external hard drive or get a subscription to a good online service?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Everything can fail, including the online service. Backing up isn’t as much about which backup technology you choose as it is about having multiple copies.

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How Can I Back Up My Data More or Less Continuously?

How can I backup my work on a running basis throughout the day so that I don’t lose hours of work through hardware failure or accidental deletion? A friend lost his presentation yesterday while amending it an hour before delivery because of a thumb drive failure. I sometimes accidentally delete parts of my work during the day and have to do them again. My solution is to intermittently save to a file name with “PROTECT” added as the name and on a different drive; but this is clunky, takes time, and is unreliable because it depends on me remembering to do it. Are there automatic options to achieve this purpose?

I feel your friend’s pain. Anybody that has used a computer for any length of time, particularly in business or when giving presentations, has been in his shoes.

Let’s talk about some ways to avoid a repeat.

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Can Backups of Email Be Hacked?

Hi, Leo. I’m an engineer in the UK. I’m interested in email security and I’ve read your stuff on email interception. I want to discuss an aspect of this (the backup of email servers) and get your view. Most articles that I come across suggest that intercepting email in transit or in flight over the wire as opposed to radio is hard to do for a hacker. It’s the end points that the hacker is most likely to attack, but my worry is that even in transit, an email is likely to pass through an intermediate email server and those servers are likely to be backed up with a backup possibly being stored off the network. Once this backup has been made, the security of the information content can then be a time independent risk. Such a backup could be read or copied who knows when in the future by who knows who. How much of a threat would you consider these backups to be?

You raise a very good point and it applies to more than just email. This is a very often-overlooked aspect of both email and more general cloud security.

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Is My Data Safe in an Online Backup Program?

Are online backup programs (such as Carbonite) and the procedures associated with them safe and secure? Specifically, if I use a backup program like this, can somebody at the service actually access everything that I’ve actually backed up with them? Are the procedures to get the data to and from the service safe and secure? I’m using Windows XP.

Trusting online services is an interesting conundrum. Whenever we use an online service, even something as common as Gmail, we believe that the company offering the service is going to do what they say they do – keep our information private. So, we regularly transfer sensitive information over channels that are somewhat insecure, yet fundamentally trusted.

The same is very true for backups. In general, you are safe when you trust a company like Carbonite or any of the other major online backup services.

Can the people at that service access your data? Theoretically, yes.

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